Oily skin is one of the five primary skin types: normal, dry, oily, combination, and sensitive. Oily skin is caused by the overproduction of sebum, an oily substance, from sebaceous glands found in hair follicles. There are many factors that contribute to the overproduction of sebum, including stress, humidity, and genetics, but one of the main factors is hormones.
Sebum is important for the health of the skin, as it provides moisture and has antibacterial properties. However, an excess of oil in the skin can cause irritation, itchiness, and acne. There are various hormones involved in causing oily skin, as well as various methods to prevent and treat oily skin. So what are the hormones that cause oily skin?
What hormones cause oily skin
When facial skin is oily, it may appear to be greasy or unclean, and pores will appear larger than usual. Excessively oily skin can contribute to the growth of hormonal acne, as the excess sebum mixes with dead skin cells on the face and blocks pores, creating blackheads.
Oily skin and acne are commonly caused by hormonal imbalances. The glands that produce sebum are known as the sebaceous glands. These glands contain receptors which are influenced by sex hormones (mostly androgen hormones such as progesterone and testosterone).
Androgen sex hormones are typically considered to be produced only by those assigned-male-at-birth (AMAB), however a few types of androgens are naturally produced in those assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) too. These hormones are mostly responsible for the production of oil, and increases in oil production are commonly seen when androgen levels fluctuate.
In those AFAB, hormonal fluctuations (especially of progesterone) typically increase before the period, during pregnancy, and during menopause. This can result in excess oil production and outbreaks of acne. People undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT), for example, may see increased levels of testosterone, and are more likely to experience an overproduction of sebum and oilier skin.1
Oestrogen hormone may have a role in preventing rather than causing hormonal oily skin, as some evidence demonstrates that naturally produced oestrogen has a role in reducing the production of androgens, therefore lowering the amount of facial oil.2
Oestrogen levels naturally drop during the period, so it is less effective at preventing overproduction of facial oil. At the same time that oestrogen decreases leading up to and during the period, the levels of androgen hormones increases so the production of sebum is also greatly increased.
Stress also greatly contributes to hormonal oily skin, as stress causes increases in the production of androgen hormones, in turn increasing the production of sebum.
How to prevent hormonal oily skin
Preventing oily skin caused by hormones can be difficult, as hormonal skin conditions are often hard to control. Finding and sticking to the right skincare routine for you can be beneficial in preventing oily skin, as it keeps the amount of sebum under control. One of the simplest ways to prevent oily skin is to wash the face regularly. It is suggested that you should wash your face once in the morning and once in the evening, as well as after exercising
When washing your face it is important to be gentle, and to not scrub the face, as this will cause some irritation to the skin. Additionally, the face wash used should be gentle, as a harsher product could dry out the skin, which would lead to more sebum being produced. After washing, moisturiser should be applied so that the face does not become too dry.
If you have an oily skin type and wear makeup, ensuring that the makeup is water-based rather than oil-based will help to lower the amount of oil on the skin. You may also want to avoid oil-based make-up removers and cleansers. Sleeping in makeup also contributes to extra facial oils, so ensuring that all makeup is removed before bed is important.
How to treat hormonal oily skin
Oily skin caused by hormones can be treated in a variety of ways including hormone treatments such as oral contraceptives and/or medicated acne products/cosmeceuticals.
Oral contraceptives, which are typically used to prevent pregnancy, have been found to be effective in reducing the amount of facial oil by inhibiting androgen levels and increasing oestrogen levels. Combination contraceptive pills have been found to be especially effective and were able to improve oily skin within one cycle of treatment. However, taking oral contraceptives to improve the skin oiliness comes with the typical risks of taking the pill such as experiencing a number of side effects that these pills cause.3
Cosmeceuticals are cosmetic products that contain bioactive ingredients that are suggested to have medical benefits. Niacinamide is one such cosmeceutical, which is a form of the vitamin B3, typically found in foods such as fish and eggs. However, niacinamide is used in many skincare serums, which are intended to be applied to the face. The direct application of niacinamide has been found to be significantly effective at reducing the production of sebum within short time frames of two to four weeks.4
Medicated acne products generally come in the forms of gels, creams, and lotions. They are topical (applied directly to the areas requiring treatment) and the most common are retinoids. Retinoids typically contain some form of vitamin A, including both natural and synthetic derivatives. Tazarotene, for example, is a synthetic derivative of vitamin A which has been found to aid in lowering sebum production by reducing the size of the pores and therefore reducing facial oiliness.5
Hormonal imbalances are a large contributing factor to the production of sebum, so helping to maintain this balance is important for reducing the oiliness of skin. This can be achieved through various methods, ranging from simple ones like regular washing and moisturising the face, to others which would typically be prescribed by a doctor or dermatologist. Overall, it is important to ensure facial cleanliness and health to prevent oily skin.
- Ramasamy R, Osterberg Ec, Bernie A. Risks of testosterone replacement therapy in men. Indian Journal of Urology [Internet]. 2014;30(1):2. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3897047/
- Hermanns-Lê T, Hermanns J-F, Lesuisse M, Piérard GE. Cyclic Catamenial Dermatoses. BioMed Research International. 2013;2013:1–5.
- Endly DC, Miller RA. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology [Internet]. 2017 Aug 1;10(8):49–55. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605215/
- Draelos ZD, Matsubara A, Smiles K. The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production. Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy. 2006 Jan;8(2):96–101. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16766489/
- Roh M, Han M, Kim D, Chung K. Sebum output as a factor contributing to the size of facial pores. British Journal of Dermatology. 2006 Nov;155(5):890–4. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17034515/